Don't speed—or at least keep it to a minimum
John Roman Images/shutterstockYou can keep yourself and your loved ones safe—not to mention the people you're sharing the road with—by simply observing the speed limit. Along with knowing these valuable safe driving strategies, slowing down makes a lot of sense—speeding is the number two cause of motor vehicle accidents. (Distracted driving is number one, drunk driving comes in third.)
That said, as a general matter you can probably drive a few miles per hour above the speed limit without attracting the attention of police officers, according to every police officer we spoke to—including retired Police Captain Michael Palardy (Millburn, NJ). If the only thing you're doing wrong is driving a few miles per hour over the speed limit, says Harold Hilliard, retired Plano, Texas police officer, you'll probably be fine.
However, if you do get pulled over, all it takes is going one mile per hour faster than the posted speed limit to get a ticket, says insurance advisor, Bradley Hamburger. And if you try to fight it in traffic court, it'll be up to you to prove that you weren't going even a single mile per hour over the speed limit.
Slow down near schools
Tonktiti/shutterstockWhen you're driving in a school safety zone (as indicated by street signs), always stick to the exact speed limit, say our veteran cops. Not only is it a matter of basic decency and common sense, it's a safe bet that police officers are keeping a sharp eye on the safety of those roads. The same is true for residential neighborhoods, particularly during the school-day. One more time you should obey the letter of the law: When there's a speed camera. Not sure where they are or what they look like? You can find apps that will warn you of the cameras' presence.
While we're on the topic of school safety, here are some important back-to-school safety tips.
Don't speed in a Bugatti
sirtravelalot/sutterstockIt's not that police officers have anything against luxury cars—it's just that they're just curious like everyone else. What's the car like inside? Who's driving it?
"If you're driving a Bugatti even slightly over the speed limit, you might get pulled over just because in addition to getting to write out a speeding ticket, the police officer now has the opportunity to check out your awesome car," Hamburger jokes. But he's not really joking. This is what happens in real life. If you drive an awesome car, be mindful of that.
Don't have a Bugatti? A person can dream, and speaking of which, here are nine of the coolest concept cars that never happened.
Don't try it in a beater, either
Orlando Stocker/shutterstockActually, retired officer Hilliard refers to a rundown car as a "POS." If your car is a beater, it's just as likely to attract attention as a rare luxury vehicle. And this is particularly true if it's emitting excessive smoke, making too much noise, or is down a taillight. In fact, if your lights aren't working properly, you can expect another violation because your car is legally required to have its headlights and taillights intact. It's a matter of safety. Make sure you're not following these outdated tips for car safety maintenance.
Don't speed with a baby face
sirtravelalot/shutterstockYoung drivers are catnip to cops, according to Hamburger. Being new to the road and lacking in experience, young drivers will provide cops with the opportunity for a teaching moment: They'll be only too happy to point out to the youngsters that they'll be held responsible for their driving choices. In other words, young drivers, you're being watched!
What do you and a new driver have in common? Both of you could always brush up on your driver etiquette.
Wear that seatbelt
carballo/shutterstock"Cops can tell if you're not wearing your seat belt," Hamburger says. "If they don't see the strap above your left shoulder, you're just asking to be pulled over. Even if you're not speeding." But if you are speeding, you're going to wind up with two tickets. One for speeding, and one for failing to wear a seat belt. In fact, don't drive without a seat belt at all. Ever.
Never speed with a smartphone in your hand
FabrikaSimf/shutterstockNo surprise here: If you're seen by a police officer driving over the speed limit with a smartphone in your hand, you will not catch any breaks. Distracted driving is dangerous. Distracted speeding is doubly dangerous.
As for distracted walking, take it seriously. Here's what you need to know about the dangers of texting and walking.
In fact, don't drive distracted at all
MesquitaFMS/shutterstockDriving with your attention on something other than the road is when you're likely to drive too slowly, says Hamburger. If you're driving significantly below the speed limit, you're going to attract attention. Should a cop see you driving below the speed limit with a smartphone in your hand, you're basically asking to get stopped.
Other signs police look for in distracted drivers include weaving in and out of your lane, looking down, stopping for too long at stop signs and red lights, and talking animatedly, even without anyone else in the car. We know what you're thinking: "Seriously? Even if you're using your phone hands-free?"
But the harsh reality is that "distracted driving isn't only about what's in your hand. Eighty percent of the distraction is the conversation," says Hamburger. "The phone in the hand accounts for the last 20 percent."
Here are the signs you might be addicted to your cell phone.
Don't take chances if your registration has expired
Tomasz Pado/shutterstockDon't speed. Don't drive slowly. Don't use your hands-free device. In fact, don't even park—because if you're driving around with an expired registration, you're just asking for a ticket.
Did your failing memory let you miss the expiration date on your registration? Here are some brain exercises that might help.
Got pulled over? You could still avoid a ticket
Pavel L Photo and Video/shutterstockWhen you hear those "whoop whoop" noises and see those flashing lights, keep your cool, slow down, and think polite thoughts because there's a right way to talk to a policeman, and a wrong way, says Hamburger. The right way is to be "unfailingly polite." The wrong way is any other way.
"Don't get out of your car," Hamburger advises, no matter how long it takes the officer to make his way to your car—because whatever you might be feeling when you're stopped by a cop, you should assume the cop is concerned for his own safety. Being a law enforcement officer is a dangerous job. "Even with a weapon, every traffic stop a police officer makes could be the last," Hamburger explains, and this is true even in the most bucolic suburb.
"Follow whatever instructions the police officer gives you," Hamburger adds, "but don't offer a confession." Anything you say can be used against you in traffic court. Instead, as politely as possible, talk about how safe of a driver you generally are and how you understand that driving safely is of critical importance. "You have 30 seconds to convey that you're a safe-driving, law-abiding citizen," so use it wisely. If you've never gotten a speeding ticket before, let the officer know that. If you swerved or sped up in an attempt to avoid a pothole, let the officer know that too, because that may be enough for the officer to let you go with a warning.
And here are some phrases you can use to avoid getting a ticket when you get stopped.